Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Trio of Top-Tier Artists Return With Stellar Titles

Tommy Shaw performing with the Contemporary Youth Orchestra.

Fans of classic rock, modern art rock and first-rate Americana will want to discover exciting new releases available now.

Artist: Tommy Shaw and Contemporary Youth Orchestra 
Title: Sing for the Day! (Eagle Rock Entertainment)
You might like if you enjoy: Styx, the Moody Blues
Tell me more: Filmed before a fervent audience at the Waetjen Auditorium in Cleveland in May 2016, Sing for the Day! was a unique concert featuring singer-songwriter/guitarist Tommy Shaw and the Contemporary Youth Orchestra (CYO) that truly celebrates and expands the legacy of Shaw as well as the power of music to bridge generations. Under the direction of CYO founder Liza Grossman, the large group of young musicians and singers are joined by guitarist/music director Will Evankovich; together with Shaw they revisit and rework many of his best-known hits from Styx and Damned Yankees. The versions here are mostly acoustic with a heavy dose of symphonic coloring that enhances many of the selections. This writer's favorite performance on the title is a deeply affecting version of "Crystal Ball," which also serves as the first commercially-available recording with a lost verse that was never heard until this performance. Other standouts include an ambitious take of "Man in the Wilderness," and a rousing version of "Renegade"  the latter with the audience's impromptu clapping and a duel between Shaw on electric guitar and CYO alum violinist Lavinia Pavlish taking full advantage of the orchestra's range. Sing for the Day! is available as a 13-track audio CD, as well as expansive blu-ray and Digital Audio/Video versions that include the 2016 concert. On the Blu-ray version (reviewed here), there is bonus audio of four tracks offered to a slide show with images captured during rehearsals and the actual performance.  Information:

Artist: Florence + the Machine
Title: High As Hope (Republic Records)
You might like if you enjoy: Kate Bush, Peter Gabriel, Bat for Lashes
Tell me more: Since the release of Florence + the Machine's debut Lungs in 2009, songstress Florence Welch and company have mined art rock, soul and baroque pop to create something that is truly their own. Fast forward to 2018 and Welch's passionate and powerful vocals continue to shine on the troupe's fourth full-length LP, High As Hope. In concert  notably a massive setting such as Coachella where Florence + the Machine have thrilled  the near-bombastic approach taken in favorites such as "Shake It Out," "Only If for a Night" and "Dog Days Are Over" can thrill. But what Florence + the Machine have done on the 10-track High As Hope is craft a more nuanced and emotionally intimate journey via Welch's sweeping impressions of love, loss, hope and faith. Sure there are big choruses where Welch can lift her wonderful soprano to the heavens, but the emotional quiet provides a masterful counterpoint across the disc. The lovely "Grace" and intoxicating "Patricia" are bolstered by this two-sided approach; earlier the lead-off cut "June" is anchored mostly by Welch's voice until the song's climatic finale. The Neo-classical ascent of "The End of Love" and confessional closer "No Choir" provide other rich forays on the disc. Those looking for the signature soulful rock need listen no further than the dramatic "Hunger," an undeniable song that demands repeated listens. Information:

Artist: I See Hawks in L.A.
Title: Live and Never Learn (Western Seeds Records)
You might like if you enjoy: Gram Parsons, Kris Kristofferson, Merle Haggard
Tell me more: Discerning music fans from Southern California know some of the region's greatest artists of the '80s, '90s and '00s somehow never got their due. Psychic Rain, Altered State, dada, August Burning, Vinnie James, and Walter Clevenger & the Dairy Kings immediately come to mind. Sadly, Americana troupe I See Hawks in L.A.  whose eponymous debut was released on Sept. 11, 2001  has been the recipient of critical praise even while being largely ignored by commercial radio. But fans should rush out and grab the band's newly-released Live and Never Learn, an LP of remarkable depth and beauty. I See Hawks in L.A.'s first full-length release since 2013's Mystery Drug, the 14-track masterwork bristles with authenticity and welcome grit. No wonder considering the backdrop in the lives of the members; lead vocalist-guitarist Rob Waller lost his mother to pancreatic cancer in March 2015; guitarist/album producer Paul Lacques recently lost both of his parents. Many of the songs were written and recorded while bandmates were dealing with adversity. Whether performing a traditional country ballad (the lovely "Poour Me," acoustic "Singing in the Wind"), harmonies-adorned folk rock ("Live and Never Learn," "My Parka Saved Me," "Spinning") or vintage-styled rock 'n' roll ("The Last Man in Tujunga," "King of the Rosemead Boogie"), Waller's resonant baritone and the band's masterful playing enriches the winning range of original roots material. Information:

Robert Kinsler

1 comment:

Bobbofallenstar said...

I see Hawks in LA are such an amazing band. Have seen them a few times and even got the chance to share a gig or two over the years.

Thanks for this great review of a criminally underappreciated act.